South Wales Police has begun a three-month trial of a facial recognition app for its officers to use on their mobile phones.
The move comes despite an ongoing controversy over the force’s previous trial of the technology that has embroiled it in a court case with civil rights campaign group Liberty.
It said the app will be used initially by 50 officers under supervision prior to sharing the results with senior leaders and partners.
They will be able to take photos of possible suspects, following which the app will match them against any faces on its database.
The force said this will enable them to quickly confirm the identity of a wanted suspect, while also quickly resolving any cases where it proves not to be the person.
Deputy Chief Constable Richard Lewis said: “This new app means that, with a single photo, officers can easily and quickly answer the question of ‘Are you really the person we are looking for?’ When dealing with a person of interest during their patrols in our communities, officers will be able to access instant, actionable data, allowing to them to identify whether the person stopped is, or is not, the person they need to speak to, without having to return to a police station.
“Officers will also be able to verify the identity of a vulnerable person in seconds, rather than hours, resulting in less time digging for information and more time keeping the peace.
“I want to stress that our police officers will only be using the new technology in instances where it is both necessary and proportionate to do so and always with the end goal of keeping that particular individual, or the wider public, safe. We have given additional training to the officers who are part of the trial and will closely monitor the use of the app to assess its effectiveness.”
South Wales Police has previously run trials involving the use of cameras at public events that have led to a judicial review, yet to be completed, on their lawfulness and proportionality.
The launch of the app prompted a protest from Liberty. Its policy and campaigns officer Hannah Couchman said: “It is shameful that South Wales Police are rolling out portable facial recognition technology to individual officers while their so-called ‘pilots’ are being challenged by Liberty in court. This technology destroys our anonymity in public spaces, chilling our ability to take part in protests and increasing state control over every one of us.
“Far less intrusive means have been used for decades by police to establish a person’s identity where necessary. It’s a gross abuse of power for South Wales Police to roll out routine, on-the-spot biometric checks, and especially in circumstances where a person isn’t suspected of committing any crime at all.
“This technology is intrusive, unnecessary, and has no place on our streets.”